Written by Michael Goot in The Post-Star on March 24, 2020
Lake George business owners are anxious whether the shutdown of everyday life to limit the spread of the coronavirus will extend to the busy tourist season.
“I would hope by mid-spring we would be back to something close to normal,” said state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, on Tuesday during a conference call organized by the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce and moderated by chamber President Gina Mintzer.
Also on the call were state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, and U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville.
Stec said Gov. Andrew Cuomo has used the analogy of shutting a valve — meaning clamping down on social activities to limit the spread of the virus. Cuomo and President Donald Trump have started to have conversations on when the valve could be loosened.
Stefanik said how quickly life goes back to normal will depend on how much people are heeding the pleas for social distancing and limiting outside contact.
Stefanik said relief is available to small businesses being hurt by the shutdown. The Small Business Administration is making loans available. Businesses that have fewer than 500 people will have the loans forgiven as long as the funds are used to meet payroll or make mortgage or rent payments or pay off loans, she said.
The goal is to minimize disruption to employees, according to Stefanik.
“We don’t want to see small businesses getting rid of their workforce at this difficult time. We want to incentivize them to keep paying their workers,” she said.
In response to a question about businesses that have no employees, Stefanik said she wanted to make sure that sole-proprietor firms are eligible as well.
Stefanik said she believes the money should not go toward stock buybacks or executive compensation.
“We don’t want to be seeing golden executive parachutes being utilized at this time of crisis,” she said.
The stimulus package will also include direct checks to individuals. The amount will depend on whether people have dependents and will be phased out at the upper-income levels.
Stefanik said she hoped that the relief bill would be approved in the Senate and then sent back to the House. Senate Democrats delayed the bill on Monday by voting against a procedural motion to bring it to the floor.
“We have to stop playing politics. This is not a time to add in partisan provisions related to the Green New Deal and funding for arts organizations,” she said.
“We need to get immediate relief to the workers and small businesses,” she added.
Nonprofit organizations also will be eligible for these loans, according to Stefanik.
Essential business questions
Another source of confusion was about which businesses are allowed to continue operating.
Stec said the state has put information on the Empire State Development website with answers.
“The definition of what is and isn’t essential is evolving,” he said.
Among the businesses that are still allowed are electricians, plumbers and contractors, according to Stec.
Businesses also wanted to make sure that international workers would be able to come to Lake George. Stefanik said the State Department paused the program for 60 days and would review it after 30 days.
“There are so many summer employers that need those. Their workforce depends on them,” she said.
Pandemics are not covered under insurance that businesses take out to guard against financial loss, and Stefanik said this needs to be addressed.
Child care is another concern for parents whose children are not in school.
“I had a call from someone who’s a teacher aide and had to go into the school and left an 8- and 10-year-old home and did not have any child care available,” Little said.
The elected officials said it is important to try to stay positive and calm.
“People around you, especially young people, are going to take their cues from how people are reacting,” Stec said.
They were also encouraged by how businesses are helping out, such as by making hand sanitizer or other products.
Stefanik said Saratoga Flag is making masks now. There are “amazing” stories of people going above and beyond to serve their fellow Americans.
“It’s important to stay calm and stay vigilant and make good decisions and look out for their neighbors,” she said.
Little said it is fortunate that, using technology, people are able to connect with loved ones and watch religious services online. She encouraged neighbors to help neighbors, such as by picking up their grocery orders.
“We just have to continue to try to do these things and try to be kind and understanding to everyone else and try to keep our chin up,” she said.
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